Donald Trump spoke on Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he lied repeatedly about his record and was booed for attacking journalists. Some pundits nevertheless praised the president's appearance, not because it was necessarily impressive, but because he managed to act "more like a normal president."
It sets the stage for tomorrow night's State of the Union address, and the reaction from many commentators that we already know is coming. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) published a prediction this morning:
"I predict that the President will read prepared remarks and pundits will swoon like it's the Gettysburg Address."
It's hard to blame the senator for his pessimism. After all, we have seen some evidence along these lines.
A few weeks ago at the White House, Trump hosted a lengthy, televised discussion with lawmakers about immigration policy. During the conversation, the president briefly endorsed the opposite of his stated position, only to be pulled back by a House Republican leader who had to remind Trump what he was supposed to think.
And yet, because expectations for this president are so low, he drew some media praise. Trump managed to go an hour in public without insulting key constituencies or creating an international incident, and so, benefiting from an overly generous curve, some observers concluded that he seemed at least mildly impressive.
There was also Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress, delivered about a year ago at this time, which was a substantive mess, but which was hailed as a political triumph by a few too many observers.
Politico ran a piece that asked, “Was this the Trump that could win in 2020?” CNN ran a splash headline in a big font, declaring, “Presidential Trump.” Fox News’ Chris Wallace went so far as to say, “I thought it was by far the best speech I ever heard Donald Trump give. It was one of the best speeches – in that setting – that I’ve heard any president give.”
Look, I appreciate the circumstances. In a 2016 primary debate, Donald Trump went so far as to brag about his genitals to a national television audience. When a politician demonstrates that level of crude classlessness, almost any public appearance in which he manages to stay clothed will look statesmanlike by comparison.
But there's no reason to lower presidential standards to such an embarrassing level. It's likely that Trump will manage to read from his trusted teleprompter tomorrow night. It's unlikely to change the trajectory of his presidency.